And the nurturing instincts Sam talks about in “Letter…” how that type of behavior is there the moment we are.
Speaking as a mother, I did not observe any nurturing instincts in my baby, quite the opposite. And if I had thought he would develop nurturing instincts without input from me, I would have gotten a lot more sleep that first year.
But, you’ve probably never had a mystical experience - drug induced or not. There seems to be another layer of experience that is found through introspection.
How do you define “mystical experience”? I have certainly had “A-ha!” moments and “in the zone” moments but am not sure those qualify. “Another layer of experience that is found through introspection.” I don’t understand what you are getting at there. I am well aware of the benefits of meditation. I have had amazing “insights” (shall we say) that resulted from introspection (one of them being the “I am me” realization that stunned me early on in life and a couple of times later, which has also been described by many autobiographers, particularly well in the case of Anthony Powell, though nobody can ever convey the particular mind-blowing quality of that experience - words simply fail).
I just don’t see any of these as mystical or “another layer of experience”. They seem like any other experience to me. If someone stabs me with a knife I know (or could look up) what neurotransmitters and brain areas are at work. I understand the adaptive benefit of being able to react to noxious stimuli. But nobody has explained “pain” as part of a theory of consciousness. To me, that doesn’t make being stabbed a mystical experience. Neither consciousness nor mysticism nor anything supernatural are required for organisms to react to external stimuli, noxious or otherwise, because such reactions can occur in organisms that cannot be conscious (or have mystical or paranormal experiences). I hope we can agree that a lawn does not suffer physically or existentially when it is mowed. Why some vertebrates (and maybe other animals) do “feel pain” is not known. Not knowing does not mean that we need to jump to mystical, supernatural, or metaphysical explanations. Maybe we will know someday, maybe we won’t.
we’re making progress towards defining these experiences and opening the window to the mind, in the hopes of understanding what is really going on in our heads. Just give it time.
How much time and for what, exactly? What is the difference between mystical and supernatural experience? Sam certainly hasn’t told me yet; observation is not explanation. I am a skeptic, obviously, and was very disappointed to see Sam quoting known charlatans on paranormal “research”, which leads me to fear that he conflates “mystical” with “paranormal”, which shows excessive credulity. He is not the first; William James joined/founded the Society for Psychical Research well over 100 years ago, but we still don’t have any evidence for the paranormal. Harry Houdini was far more effective than all those scientists at showing how the mediums who baffled them produced their tricks. Same with the Amazing Randi today. Scientists can fall in love with their own (or others’) ideas and lose their ability to criticize them, or can be duped outside their own field - just look at the perfectly competent PhD engineers who defend Intelligent Design, for example. Those who are blinded by faith may never recover, but how long should the rest of us wait? How many more years for string physics?
Certainly theology and the supernatural will not depart any time soon, but for scientists and skeptics, how much time must we give before we give up? Scientists have given up on alchemy and perpetual motion (the latter to the point that the US Patent Office will not even entertain claims for patents of machines that purport to evade the 2nd law of thermodynamics) because after centuries of trying such endeavors never succeeded and science has recently showed convincing reasons why they never will, at which point both were immediately discarded as pseudoscience and not worthy of further investigation - is that a mistake?
Also, Fritjof and Michio are well respected authors and scientists. They aren’t making crackpot claims
Fritjof is no longer respected among physicists. As for Kaku (who has clasped string theory to his heart to the point where I doubt he will ever be able to give it up), if you listen to him on the Art Bell show you might disagree about the crackpot claims. I have absolutely heard him endorse paranormal claims on that program. Perhaps other “respected scientists” don’t listen to Art Bell. The growing doubts about string theory, parallel universes, etc. are growing precisely because string theory doesn’t make useful testable claims and the idea of parallel universes is not reductionist enough. Maybe there are millions of parallel universes, but if we can only speculate about them, what is the point? I am not interested in metaphysics or theology.
The genius of science has been that it takes lots of observations, speculations, etc. and reduces them to a useful theory. It may be that there is no Grand Unified Theory; it may be that there is one but our minds are not able to understand it, any more than a cat can understand calculus. Or maybe just not yet. Michio Kaku says that we “were never supposed to see this [string] theory in the 20th century” (a statement I find suspicious in itself - is there someone in charge of doling out scientific discoveries bit by bit?) because the “mathematics necessary to solve the theory have not yet been discovered” and “nobody on the planet is smart enough to solve the theory”. Actually, the problem is that there is still no consistent theory to solve, and even mathematicians are starting to complain about the math in string theory - Peter Woit, the Not Even Wrong guy, is one. Show me the money is all I’m saying. If the Large Hadron Collider does, I can be convinced to change my mind about string physics. If someone comes up with a convincing theory of consciousness, I can be convinced. If somebody wins the Amazing Randi’s million-dollar challenge, I can change my mind about the paranormal.
Allow me to quote from Burton Richter in the latest Physics Today (which I got from the Not Even Wrong blog; I don’t pretend to be anything more than a somewhat educated [some physics at Berkeley in the early 1970s; I heard Heisenberg at a guest lecture then and OMG, was he ever derisive about the wrongheadedness and misinterpretation of the Uncertainty Principle and quantum mechanics that were beginning to crop up as New Age theories] and interested observer as far as physics goes):
I have a very hard time accepting the fact that some of our distinguished theorists do not understand the difference between observation and explanation, but it seems to be so…
Do you understand the difference and can you explain it and why it is important? Since this is the foundational principle of science itself, if you don’t understand the difference you are not going to “get” science. Not to worry: there are plenty of theologian physicists who have studied all their lives, have successful careers, and still don’t (or have forgotten). And maybe they are not wrong. “Maybe” doesn’t go very far with me or for very long, though. Show me the money. Give me a good reason-based explanation for why Karl Popper was wrong.
Also in the same issue of Physics Today is this sentence from an editorial defending string physics:
Critical-mindedness is integral to all scientific endeavour, but the pursuit of string power deserves undaunted encouragement.
This just shows how powerful our ability to self-delude can become. This guy is making a statement that is incompatible with itself and publishing it in the leading journal of physics! There is certainly good reason to try and figure out why human beings are so horribly prone to drag metaphysics slash theology slash “meaning” into all our endeavors, even to their utter ruination if need be. (And maybe they are right and I am wrong - just show me why. I could be convinced to believe in God himself if he could figure out a way to convince me that he exists - and it wouldn’t be that hard.)
I recommend the Not Even Wrong blog (can’t give an URL because it is no longer letting me in through Typepad and I have to get to it cached on Google - just type in “not even wrong blog”). It is readable by the nonphysicist and if you approach it with an open, skeptical, critical mind (that is, you are willing to discover that you might be wrong) you could find yourself agreeing with an increasing number of scientists that this stuff is just not science.
It is true that some of the turning points in science have been discoveries about science itself - and perhaps it is silly to go on thinking that you are onto something good when a theory is simple, elegant, reductionist, useful, falsifiable - and onto the wrong track when the reverse is true. But in the last 200+ years, no major scientific theory has been proposed which has not been confirmed within 10 years. Good science gets grabbed and triumphs quickly. Yet string theory has just been getting more and more arty and complicated and theological for 35 years. The anthropic principle? The Landscape? C’mon. Show me the money.
By the way, in case you think I am harping on string physics, it is because the popularization slash misunderstanding of slash disingenuity about that and similar theories is why we have the New Age crap around. Michio Kaku is a great popularist and indeed people would be delighted to “read the mind of God” as he puts it. Fine - show me the science or show me why all previous science has been wrong. I am open to being wrong. The LHC could prove me wrong. If it doesn’t, Michio Kaku and all the others should leave the stage in disgrace. They probably won’t, but the history of science is unrelenting in its final decisions. Kaku challenged the bet that nobody would win a Nobel prize by 2020 for string theory or any other “theory of everything” in 2002 - add four more years and we are still waiting. Like the physicist who proposed the bet I would be delighted to be proved wrong… but also like him, I doubt that I will be. In other words, I take the bet.
A lot of scientists (whether they are string theorists or not) ARE asking questions that might be considered realms for philosophers - but they are doing this using the same sense of doubt and method as scientists.
Unfortunately it seems more and more clear that string theorists are not doing this. But tell me who else is and show me the data, the theory, the explanation. (Or tell me why science itself has been wrong.) Just some citations would be fine.
Sorry to be rude, but I just can’t believe anyone is bringing up Fritjof Capra in 2006 as someone to be taken seriously. This just shows me you have not done enough reading on the subject of physics. And physics is unfortunately essential to all of this, including the problem of consciousness.